Position: Over KAMA (Amarillo)
Altitude: 33,000 feet
Groundspeed: 554 mph (482 kts)
Pax-on-Board: 183 + 4 jumpers
Earlier, my dispatcher was nervously clearing her throat while describing the weather north of Amarillo, extending all the way to Casper. She told me about thunderstorms with tops in excess of 65,000 feet. We have eyes on them now and she was not kidding. They are not at 65,000 feet anymore; I wag them at only 55,000 feet in the cooling night atmosphere.
These level 6 aircraft killers punched through the tropopause with ease and exploded into the stratosphere. It is not unheard of for aircraft to inadvertently fly through hail columns twenty miles away from these monsters. I have chosen to fly south and upwind of the storm line.
We are in a 321 stretch Fi-Fi with every seat full, including jumpseats. The two pilots in the cockpit jumpseats are buddies of mine, one going home after a four day trip and the other being positioned for a flight later in the day. The three of us belong to a small band of misfit, politically incorrect, grumpy old captains who have formed a Lufbery Circle at work, helping each other with family matters, scheduling conflicts, alibis, etc.
To run with this pre-geezer gang, one must have thick skin. These two have been harassing me since they sat down in the cockpit. They have been telling the co-pilot outrageous stories of my (alleged) involvement in past incidents on the Line. Thankfully, we are ninety minutes into the flight and they are getting sleepy and talking less; important in case we have a statute of limitations problem here.
The wing tanks and center tanks remain mostly full, being replenished from the aft center fuselage tanks. We are step climbing tonight, currently at 33,000 feet waiting for fuel weight to decrease. Fifty miles northeast of our track, huge thunderstorms with tops at least 20,000 feet above our cruise altitude. The lightning is continuous and bright, a sure sign of very dangerous storms.
Industrial strength flying is the name of the game tonight. No exotic destinations on this trip; just hardcore east coast airports with fast talking controllers, extended taxi times, and short overnights.
Life on the Line continues.... Over the Texas panhandle.